One of the strangest movies ever made, The Brainiac (a/k/a El baron del terror) is also the subject of “Debra Kadabra,” the first song on Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart’s Bongo Fury.
The song’s lyrics conflate a late-night broadcast of the 1962 movie on KCOP with an event from Beefheart and Zappa’s teenage years in 1950s Lancaster, when a cosmetics accident temporarily transformed Beefheart into something like a B-movie monster. One night, while the pair were in high school, Don Van Vliet (Beefheart) doused himself in some of the Avon prodcuts his mother sold; perhaps unsurprisingly, he suffered a severe allergic reaction (“His face looked like an alligator,” Zappa recalled). To convalesce, he went to a family member’s house in East L.A., where no one from high school could mock his disfigurement.
Cover my entire body with Avon co-log-nuh
And drive me to some relative’s house in East L.A.
Turn it to Channel 13
And make me watch the rubber tongue
When it comes out
From the puffed and flabulent Mexican rubber-goods mask
Make me grow Brainiac fingers
But with more hair
At the appropriate moments in the song, a trumpet quotes the score from The Brainiac. Barry Miles’ Zappa biography has a bit of the maestro discussing the movie’s relationship to “Debra Kadabra”:
Oh God, it’s one of the worst movies ever made; not only is the monster cheap, he’s got a rubber mask that you can see over the collar of the guy’s jacket and rubber gloves that don’t quite match up with the sleeves of his sport coat. When the monster appears there’s this trumpet lick that isn’t scary. It’s not even out of tune, it’s just exactly the wrong thing to put there, it doesn’t scare you… That’s what the song is about and when you hear in the background DA-DA-DA-DA-DAHH, that’s making fun of that stupid trumpet line that’s in that movie… When he’s saying “Make me grow Brainiac fingers”, that’s what he’s referring to, because Vliet and I have both seen that movie and it’s so fucking stupid.
You’ll love it! It’s a way of life…